THIS IS A SHAREWARE TRIAL PROJECT IT IS NOT "FREEWARE" WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT TO CONTINUE
100 WEST BY 53 NORTH
Copyright 1990, Jim Prentice, Brandon, Manitoba, CANADA
North of 53. A magic phrase. Spoken, mumbled or thought inwardly by thousands of souls venturing northward. An imaginary line, shown only on maps and labelled 53 degrees. It's presence indicated to highway travellers by road side signs. A division of territory as distinct in the mind as any international border. If you have not been "North of 53", you have not been north! Travellers and writers, poets and pilots, have contributed to the lore of the north. The rigors of life in the bush are told in tales of man eating mosquitoes, of murderous hordes of black flies, of the lumps of flesh carried away by the giant bull dog flies. The stories of record breaking trout, walleye, and pike are legion. There are tales of sights and sounds heard deep in the spruce forests: The crashing of moose, tearing through brush and breaking down trees. The drumming of grouse. The incessant hum of insects. The cackling quackery of ducks feeding on quiet ponds and placid bays. Once heard, the intermittent song of the loon is never forgotten. It's voice the signature of authenticity of a northern scene. If the wildlife in the northern bush land seems different than found elsewhere, so is the life of man. It takes a special breed of person to live in the north. The farther one travels, the more this becomes apparent. The Southerner, whether on his first or fiftieth trip north of 53, never really becomes aware of the implications of northern living. Generally, the owners of "cottages" on southern lakes have more amenities at hand for a weekend of "roughing it" than most northern dwellers have on a year round basis. The modern cabin on a lake shore near a large metropolitan center is equipped with electric service, a telephone, paved roads, natural gas pipelines, and cable television. Nearby are services that provide food, fuel, repairs, and entertainment. Drivein theaters and fast food chains abound. Waterfront businesses have docks built for those arriving by boat to do their shopping, laundry, or to transfer suitcases from the family car. The local merchants deliver goods to the cabin by road or by water. Entrepreneurs make a businesss of servicing and maintaining cabins during the owners absence in the off seasons. Most of these "cottages", whether on the lake shore, or located five well paved streets from the water, rival the homes of many city dwellers. These lake side communities, although seasonal, differ little from the urban living from which they offer escape. Look at an average northern community. Study and compare the standards with those of urban areas and their nearby lake side retreats. There are no local bus services. If the car doesn't start you either walk, or call a taxi. Yes, most areas do have a taxi service of one kind or another. Even if it's a ride in the back of some one's pick up truck. Mail delivery is unknown. A pleasant stroll in midsummer is contrasted by an ordeal in life threatening conditions during winter. House to house delivery of milk and bread is nonexistent. Perhaps newspapers are delivered, but it requires a family effort, especially in winter. Bus, rail and scheduled air services to nearby settlements is severely restricted, if available at all. Many small taxi companies exist because of the large fares collected in the transport of natives to and from the reserves. Although diminishing in recent years, the bushpilot and charter aircraft still play a large role in northern transportation. The pilots of these small aircraft learn to live with conditions that would keep their southern colleagues on the ground. In summer they fly float equipped aircraft. They are busy hauling trappers, fishermen, freight, fish, furs, and supplies to and from the reserves, fish camps, traplines, logging areas, and small settlements. In the fall, when the ice is too thin for skis, yet too thick for floats, they change the aircraft to wheel equipment. Changing to skis when ice conditions permit. Winter flying presents problems that most pilots never hear of. Temperatures exceeding 40 below zero, blowing snow, ice crystals, and whiteouts. All these challenge the pilot in their daily work. The preheating of engines to coax them to life. The problem of congealed oil in propeller pitch mechanisms, and fueling with super cooled gasoline are regular chores. The ski-equipped aircraft must be tied down with ropes that are frozen into holes in the four foot ice. The skis must be lifted or run onto boards or poles to prevent them freezing into the ice. Pilots and passengers must wear heavy arctic clothing as few aircraft have cabin heat systems capable of coping with the cold. Aircraft batteries are removed at the end of each day of flying to ensure maximum efficiency the next day. Wings and engines are covered to stop the ingress of snow and the build up of frost on the flight surfaces. Gasoline fueled blow-pots are often carried to provide engine preheat to ensure starting. The oil in these engines gets so thick at minus 40 to 50 degrees that the engine cannot be turned. This writer has done chin-ups on the propeller of a coldsoaked Cessna which flew the next day after preheating. The northern airports lack any degree of services in comparison to those farther south. Fuel is usually available if you can locate the operator. Some of the larger communities may have a pay telephone at the airstrip, but the normal procedure is to buzz the town on arrival. This lets the people know you are landing and usually someone will head out to the strip to meet you. Unless you are a regular customer, all transactions for fuel and oil are on a cash basis. Cheques are nearly useless in a village without a bank. Credit to a stranger is foolhardy. During the grip of winter, the snowmobile is the major mode of transport in all but the largest of settlements. In many places that do have roads in winter, vehicles are left running 24 hours a day. If allowed to get cold, it may take many hours of effort to restart balky engines. Most northern residents enjoy the winter months. The change in seasons brings on a change in activities. The boats and motors are stored away with the lawnmowers and garden chairs. The snowmobiles are tuned up, ice-fishing shacks are towed onto lakes and rivers. The blades of gas- powered ice augers are sharpened. The fishermen flock to their favorite spots and drill holes through ice up to four feet thick. Whether in the comfort of a shack with a woodburning stove glowing in the center, or huddled on the ice in the lee of a snowmobile, they normally take a good catch. Walleye, trout, pike, tullibee and whitefish as well as perch, burbot, catfish and bass are plentiful. The most popular bait is minnows, some use sucker-belly, or net bags of trout eggs. Others use metal spoons or large bucktail flies, lead-headed jigging lures, or just snelled hooks. As in summer, the best bait is whatever the fish are taking at the time. Moose hunting is another favorite sport, especially in the colder weather when the moose are on the move for food and warmth. The hunter faces problems similar to the pilot with his equipment. The extreme temperatures require that his snowmachine be kept in top condition if it is to start after a day of hunting. Once started it must be dependable. A life and death situation could develop if the machine breaks down while 40 or 50 miles from home. Even his rifle requires special care. A bolt covered with heavy grease will freeze solid in the cold. The firing pin may not move when struck by the hammer. Many a moose and bear lived to face another day because a hunter's weapon failed to operate. Other outdoor activities include cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and racing dog teams. These sports are included in the many winter festivals held each year. As spring arrives, the winter equipment is stored away and once again the boats and motors are brought out. Wagers are made on the time and date of the break up of river ice. The snow blowers, shovels, and skidoo suits are replaced with lawn mowers, rakes, and bathing suits. The pussy willows blossom. The ducks and geese return from their winter feeding grounds in the southern U.S.A.. The frogs begin to croak and the first battalions of mosquitoes are hatched. From the winter lows of 40 below zero, the mercury climbs upward. The summer highs reach the 90's, sometimes 100 degrees. A fantastic differential of 140 degrees between seasons. Through the seasons, day to day life continues. The sport and commercial fishing, the trapping and hunting. The road building, home construction, and landscaping. The pilots fly passengers and freight. They fly patrols on hundreds of miles of hydro-electric transmission lines and forest fire patrols. At regular intervals they carry conservationists doing animal census. They transport tanks of baby fish to restock the lakes. The seriously ill or injured are taken to medical centers by MEDEVAC flights. Other flights carry fishermen, and tourists. Prospectors vie with geologists, botanists, biologists, entomologists, and surveyors. All use the aircraft to see, touch, smell, measure and record the wonders of the north. The opening day of each hunting or fishing season is heralded by the arrival of recreational vehicles of all types. Trailers and vans, motorhomes and 4X4's arrive daily. They carry or tow boats and motors, bicycles, motorcycles, and ATVs. The "first-timers" fill the private and provincial government campgrounds. The more experienced and adventuresome travel logging roads and bush trails to favorite lakes, rivers, and streams. In town, the streets and parking lots are crammed with vehicles and equipment. Gasoline, food, booze, and fishing equipment are sold in great quantities. The hotels are full. Reservations were made months in advance, some were made prior to leaving the year before. For a few short weeks, during the prime spring fishing period, every available camping spot is occupied. As the summer wears on, the sportsmen recede and tourists take their place. The cycle repeats annually. Each year a number of travellers arrive in privately owned aircraft. Piper Cub to Beechcraft. Taildragger to bizjet. Most have been here before, to some it is a new experience. To a southern pilot, a trip north can be unnerving. Accustomed to flying over a network of roads and railroad tracks, always in contact with an airport or navigation aid, they are seldom prepared for the realities of northern flight. Airports are hundreds of miles apart. In most cases there are no roads or railways for navigation. At lower altitudes, voice contact with an airport is an exception rather than the rule. Flight plans of course are mandatory. Map reading is difficult. There are so many lakes, many of them the same basic shape that a sharp eye must be kept on the map. For seaplanes, the ever present danger of logs, rocks, and reefs is amplified by the distance from civilization. Flights must be carefully planned around suitable refueling facilities. The pilot of a private seaplane is in his own element here. The pleasure of landing on a remote lake, its quiet green waters undisturbed by others, is indescribable. After securing the aircraft and setting up camp, the true beauty of the north can be enjoyed. Waters teeming with fish, are surrounded by wildlife of all types. The smells of wood smoke and coffee mingling with the sound of fresh fish sizzling in the frypan. The songs of bird life. The cry of the loon. The evening wail of coyotes and wolves. The whistle of wings as ducks, geese, ravens, hawks, and eagles travel down the shoreline. On the lakes are the wakes of passing beaver and muskrat. The occasional warning smack of a beaver's tail on the water as he senses danger. The varied hues of trees, evergreen and deciduous. The colors of windflowers. The taste of fresh wild strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. The excitement of an evening sky dancing with a dazzling display as the Aurora Borealis appears. The "Northern Lights" are surrounded by stars, incredibly brilliant against the black, smog free heavens. Thoughts in the night.... Lying in your tent you hear rustling noises. A twig snaps. Mouse or rabbit? Moose or bear? Is the food secure? You visualize the food bundle, securely tied to a tree branch, high above the ground. The wind is rising, you can hear small waves breaking on the shore. Is the airplane alright? Should you go and check it? What will the fishing be like in the morning? Will you get another chance to land the big Walleye that you lost to day. Or a bigger one? A lone mosquito buzzes your ear. Somehow he has penetrated the netting of your tent. The cry of a loon is the last thing you hear. You sleep peacefully until the songs of early morning bird life announce the start of a new day. But for the constant buzz-sting-slap of insect warfare, you might be in heaven. Far to the south, your friends and neighbors are also facing a new day. Howling dogs. Screaming kids. Squealing tires. The wail of police and fire sirens. The reek of diesel fumes from passing trucks and busses. Telephones jangle and typewriters clatter. The work piles up. Dissatisfied customers grumble. The boss looms threateningly. They jostle in line for a bus, then for coffee, then for lunch. They fight traffic to get home. The neighbor's dog has left a deposit on the lawn. The children's toys are cluttering the driveway. They sit down to a TV dinner and discuss your crazy fishing trip. The day to day life in the north does have it's problems; if you happen to own a car for which there is no local dealer, you may have to order parts from hundreds of miles away and have them shipped in by bus or plane. Meanwhile the car sits. The same applies to appliances, tools, and so on. There may not be a TV repairman in town. You must send the set out for repairs, or, buy a new one. By mail order of course. Providing your community has a TV station to begin with. Most northern communities have only one radio station. The CBC. Some are augmented by local programming. Other services may be difficult to obtain. For example, a veterinarian may visit weekly, or monthly, or not at all. Medical facilities are usually present to some extent, but any serious illness or injury may require a MEDEVAC flight to a distant city. Fresh meat and produce become more of a problem in the more remote areas. If road or rail service exists the problem is not too acute. However, in many communities, the only access is by air. In this event the shipment of perishable commodities is dependant on space available on the aircraft. The subsequent prices reflect the added cost of the product. On the subject of costs, heating a home with propane may be five to seven times the cost of natural gas as in southern homes. Food, gasoline, clothing, and appliances, are considerably more expensive in the north. Of course the more remote the location the higher the price. On a trip into the high arctic a few years ago the prices ran like this:
Hotel bed $100.00 per night, per man
Breakfast (2 eggs, 2 toast, 2 bacon, and 2 coffee) $12.00
Avgas $7.00 per gallon
But then, when you are 250 miles north of the arctic circle, you expect to pay higher prices. Why then, do people live in the north? For the natives it is a matter of ancestry. For many whites it is also ancestry. To some, they were born there. Their parents having moved north for employment reasons. Some are transients, following construction jobs and other seasonal employment. Others, working for large corporations or government, are transferred north as a job requirement. Life in the north is definitely different. A person accustomed to life in a large city may not endure the rigors involved. They give it up and move south. Many people, such as myself, move north for an extended period. In our case it was 10 years. We adapted to the way of life. We enjoyed the hunting and fishing. Owning our own aircraft, we were able to travel more independently than our neighbors. We enjoyed all the great outdoors had to offer. We learned to adjust to the lack of night life, and other amenities. When 10 years had passed, and our children were adults, we took stock of our situation. We were stuck in a rut. The same rut that most of the townspeople were in. Our lives centered around hunting, fishing, the Post Office, and the TV set. We decided it was a case of moving now, or possibly remaining in the north for the rest of our lives.
We left in February of 1984!
We miss the delicious fresh fish from cold clear lakes. We miss the taste of thick moose steaks, moosemeat sausages, fresh smoked lake trout, and pancakes with fresh, wild blueberries. We miss the freedom afforded by a short flight to a secluded lake shore. The fishing and hunting within 10 miles of our northern home was superb. The friendship and camaraderie of our neighbors was great. We are happy to have had the opportunity to experience northern life. But, as we approached the midpoint of our lives, we wanted to return to civilization. To pick up where we had left off. To enjoy the supermarkets, and shopping malls, the fancy restaurants, and gourmet foods. We wanted to be closer to the center of things, a few hours drive from a major city rather than an all day trip. We returned to old friends, and new neighbors. New stores, and home mail delivery. Lower prices. Broader choices. More to do and see. More TV channels. Several radio stations, and newspapers. We can drive east or west besides north and south. We can dance to live music and eat in restaurants of many nationalities.
In short, we are back to civilization